I've been thinking a lot about generations over the last couple of days participating in and presenting a couple of workshops at the e-Formation Conference at Virginia Theological Seminary.
Generation is the one designation in life that transcends race, culture, nationality, religion, ethnicity, and any other label you could possibly come up with. You can’t control when you’re born, of course, and so your birth year determines your generation. As much as I might admire those in what we call the Greatest Generation -- people who grew up during the Depression and fought in World War II -- I can’t become a convert from my own Generation X. And I could take computer classes and play XBox until my eyes fell out but I’d still never be a Millennial, as we call the first generation born into our hyper-connected world.
the best generation. It used to be that older generations would yell at us to "get off my lawn" or threaten to "turn this car around" and then we'd get older and repeat the pattern. Technology, however, seems to bring more of an edge to the differences between the generations and has heightened generational identity. As the technological changes between generations and even half generations become increasingly rapid, it literally heightens the natural gap between the ways generations communicate and interact.
As the way we do church is evolving nearly as quickly as technology, I've noticed some genuine antipathy between the generations. I've heard the word "Boomer" spit out like a terrible insult: "She is such a bitter Boomer." And it's given right back: all those Millennials are so "self-absorbed and entitled." Both groups are clearly "ruining the church" while Gen Xers are becoming the invisible bridge generation. I'm now irrelevant -- who knew?
When we refer to people exclusively by their generation there's a dehumanizing effect. In the same way an angry parishioner might refuse to refer to their priest by name -- as in "the rector" said such and such or "the rector" thinks we should do this. It also leads to generational stereotypes: every Boomer priest wants to wear tie-dye and bring back the folk mass while every Millennial priest wants to interact only online rather than face-to-face.
One of the things I love about the Church is that it’s one of the last places in society where different generations gather and interact on a regular basis. I love looking out on a Sunday morning and seeing every generation imaginable out in the congregation. It’s a sign of the fullness of God’s kingdom here on earth as we all gather to pray and sing and give thanks to our Creator before mixing it up over coffee and conversation afterward. In this sense, perhaps today's Church is more cutting edge and radical than it's ever been.
And maybe we need to update those well-known words of St. Paul:
"There is neither Boomer nor Millennial, neither Generation X nor Generation Y, for you are all one in Jesus Christ."